No Fear of Flying

As a little girl, I found it infinitely frustrating that I could not fly. Sure, people can fly in planes, but we can’t fly. It took me a couple of decades to gradually discover that, in fact, humans can fly. Writing is flying. Flying looks like this: keyboard before you, wrist arched from the weight of an eager index finger hovering above a letter. Any letter. Lower and click. And you’re off!

Suddenly you are restrained by nothing. The stars are letters and punctuation. They collide into fantastic supernovas. Your imagination has an engine. Eventually you are pulled back in as everything comes together on a page, leaving ink smudges on your fingertips or crisp black lines on a bright screen. The sweet assurance that your flight was not a dream.

It was the realization that writing is the ultimate freedom that led me to start Altcatholicah. Altcatholicah is an airport of sorts for Catholic women. After converting two years ago, I felt as though there was no venue for Catholic woman writers to experience the exhilaration of flight. But I sensed that there were other would-be fliers out there. And there was clearly a range of explosive issues populating the intersection of faith and womanhood in this strange culture.

My mind’s wings began to beat, and Altcatholicah was born.

Altcatholicah is a web magazine where Catholic women, and women of faith more broadly, can explore the intersection of faith and gender in their lives. It is a place where women can soar above the polarized nature of today’s discussion about Catholicism and gender – a place where women can candidly present themselves in a way alternative to mainstream perceptions about women of faith.

American culture and media are indeed very polemical when it comes to treatment of Catholicism and, for lack of a better phrase, “gender issues.” If you Google “Catholic woman,” the majority of the images are women pretending to be priests. (With one glamorous photo of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd nestled in the middle.) In fact, the media has a sort of bizarre obsession with an extraordinarily marginalized and irrelevant movement of women who just don’t get that women will never and can never be priests.

        La Promenade by Marc Chagall (1917) 

Their side likes to tout the line that Catholic women are oppressed because we don’t pill pop. They believe that men have taken away our ‘reproductive rights’ because priests teach us not to kill our babies. Then they write 3,000 word hit pieces about the “men behind the war on women.” (Priests). Yawn.

But then you have the other side. The “hyper-traditionalists,” as I like to call them. They have a panic attack when you so much as mention women in the workplace. They say even natural family planning is “Luciferian” (as one woman actually put it). And they flooded my inbox in the early weeks with accusations that I was a Catholic feminist (what does that even mean?) who was “woman proselytizing” (or that?) with “misarranged principles” and suffering “narcissistic personality disorder” for thinking that Catholic women might benefit from a written venue.

Unfortunately, the hyper-traditionalists get disproportionate media attention because they play into the media’s narrative that Catholics just want to silence and oppress women. They do things like blog about how women should just go to two-year colleges. Why bother suffer four years of education and graduate with all that debt when you should be working on having babies?

And within the Catholic community, they get noticed because they throw loud temper tantrums and pull the Catholic trump card and tell you you’re a “bad Catholic.”

You’re a bad Catholic if you don’t homeschool your kids or if you don’t share their textually incorrect view that “grave” and “serious” are interchangeable in Humanae Vitae. (To be clear, I am all for school choice, emphasis on choice.)

The reality is, most practicing Catholic women are having everyday conversations about living out their faith as it relates to being a women somewhere in the middle. Some are trying very hard to reconcile the desire to partake of the professional world while putting motherhood and wifedom first. Some are navigating the very choppy waters of dating in today’s world. Others are attempting to be fashionable, stylish, and feminine in a world where modesty is wholly out of style. Others are trying courageously to be stay-at-home moms in metropolises that shame them for the choice.

All are living the struggle of being true to their vocations as women in the year 2011.

The inspiration for Altcatholicah came after a struggle of my own. My unsuccessful quest for a modest wedding dress for a Catholic ceremony landed me in the fitting room of a Muslim seamstress who listed the different religions she’s seen represented among her clientele. This prompted me to write an article for our partner site, Altmuslimah, about the common struggles women of faith face in today’s culture.

But any good struggle requires a weapon or two. And the pen is mightier than the sword.  But what if you don’t want to fight? What if you just want to explore? Well, good news, the pen is also a personal-sized jetpack.

So, for those looking for the chance to fly, stop by Altcatholicah, and pick up your pair of wings.

Ashley E. McGuire iis a senior fellow with The Catholic Association and the author of Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female.